Pictured Above: The 2019 Totus Tuus Missionaries with Fr. Ben Hasse during their training at Steubenville
By: Terri Gadzinski
I have been the director of Legacy of Faith since its inception in 2000, when Bishop James Garland, then bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, had the courage and the foresight to establish this first endowment fund for the Diocese of Marquette. I say courage because a professional feasibility study conducted at that time returned a less-than-favorable assessment about the readiness of our diocese to do so. Bishop Garland did so anyway. I say foresight because his vision of what Legacy of Faith “could be” was, in his mind, not an option. I recall, when Bishop Garland interviewed me for the job, when we shared a moment of mutual understanding that the journey ahead looked more like a mountain than a path. We both committed to the climb.
Flash forward 20 years. I pause and look down the mountain to take in the view through the lens of one triumphant program that Legacy of Faith has funded for the past 7 years: Totus Tuus.
Totus Tuus is a dynamic 1-week summer faith formation program led by teams of college-age missionaries that travel from parish to parish engaging K through 12th grade students and parish families in learning and living their Catholic faith. Legacy of Faith provided start-up funding for this brand-new program in 2013. Based on the program’s success, annual Legacy of Faith grants have been awarded to pay for training new teams of missionaries each year and to effectively reduce each parish’s cost to participate. In the past 7 years, there have been 103 parish program sites across the U.P. and an estimated 5000 people directly impacted.
“7 years of Totus Tuus! I CAN’T believe it!” exclaimed Father Ben Hasse in a recent email to Totus Tuus alumni missionaries, which he happened to copy me on. His email said he was looking at photos from the 2019 program year, full of gratitude and joy, while listening to “good old-timey folk & country music on YouTube.” I wondered for a moment what exactly some of these “old-time” song titles might be. Once, during a conversation with Fr. Ben, I revealed my advanced age to him when I likened that being a Christian steward was sort of like the song “Hold on Loosely” by 38-Special. I was astounded he didn’t know this great rock and roll song, which urges those who are in a relationship with someone to “hold on loosely, but don’t let go,” to care for those you love, but don’t overly control them. Then I remembered that Fr Ben is several decades younger than me and the songs I grew up with in the 70’s are well before his time. The songs that stick with us are so telling, but that’s another op ed piece that must wait for another time to be written.
Back to Totus Tuus. Fr. Ben was the driving force behind bringing this dynamic summer faith formation program to the Diocese of Marquette. “I had no idea what I was getting into when Angie said, ‘“Let’s go check out this program up in Ontonagon!’” The program was Totus Tuus, then sponsored by a neighboring diocese, who had filled an open program slot in our diocese.
No matter which direction you look at Totus Tuus from, the program is working. People are talking, inviting and trying out this program with the curious name. Totus Tuus, by the way, was St. John Paul II’s episcopal motto, a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours.” The spirituality of Totus Tuus is that of Mary, the Blessed Mother, who desires to belong completely to God.
By Fr Ben’s count, there have been 67 missionaries that have served. “Look what God did in us and through us! Now some of the missionaries are like, ‘I grew up going to Totus Tuus and now I’m a missionary?’ When did that happen?”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The evolution of Totus Tuus is much like any new program. In fact, it is much like the beginning of the Legacy of Faith Endowment Fund itself! It begins with the seed of an idea planted in the heart of someone who believes what “could be” is not an option. Someone who has courage and foresight.
Fr Ben may not have had any idea what he was getting into when invitation and curiosity drew him to Ontonagon in the summer of 2012, but the Holy Spirit certainly did. The following year, the Legacy of Faith grant review team was thrilled to recommend approval of a grant to support – no, invest in – the seed that was growing inside this young priest’s heart. You see, when Legacy of Faith funds programs, it is really investing in the people who carry out the programs. Without these people, who are the workers in Christ’s vineyard, the programs are lifeless.
The Totus Tuus program in our diocese started small with just one team of four missionaries serving 8 parish sites. There were some bumps along the way, but the thing that got the program funded year after year, were the annual LOF required program evaluations. The Totus Tuus evaluations did a great job of identifying bumps along the way and offering solutions. The program kept getting better and better, and spreading wider and wider throughout the U.P. A Totus Tuus Intern position was created to help manage the missionaries and the short, but intense training period, as well as schedule sites and oversee logistics at each site. A “VSP” program was created to serve the unique needs of “very small parishes.” Every year, a handful of returning missionaries help to effectively mentor and transition the program to new missionaries, most are college students. The program has also become a summer internship placement for some of our seminarians, who get hands on experience with parish families and a glimpse of what the future could hold for them.
The 7-year spread of the good news of Totus Tuus has been infectious. As summer approaches, program announcements are found in most all parishes from emails to parish families, to bulletin inserts, reminders from the pulpit and sign-up sheets in the lobby. Social media photos show people of all ages learning their faith and having fun. The prayer lines have people praying for local program organizers, the participating children, youth and families, and those hosting the missionaries in their homes. The U.P. Catholic Newspaper publishes impact stories, more great photos and posts short videos on Facebook. Previous missionaries inspire new missionaries, enthusiastic children awaken the faith in their parents and grandparents, and the Spirit-filled infection just keeps spreading.
Some Bishop’s Ambassadors (those who invest $25,000 or more to a diocesan endowment fund, such as Legacy of Faith) have hosted dinner for the missionaries, to meet and learn more about these faith-filled young people who are bringing Christ to people. These missionaries manifest the results of our donors’ philanthropy and make real the important mission of the Bishop’s Ambassador organization, to hand on the great living tradition of Catholic faith that has been handed down to us. This is the story of another mountain being climbed by a few devout Catholics with means, which is also deserving of a future Executive Director blog.
Hmm….this all sounds a bit like evangelization. Maybe the evangelization component is why Totus Tuus is spreading.
THE EVANGELIZATION CONNECTION
When ordained our Bishop in 2014, Most Reverend John F Doerfler issued a 3-point challenge to the people of the Upper Peninsula, to 1) be a friend of Jesus, 2) make a friend, and 3) introduce your friend to Jesus. Simple and profound. In his 2017 pastoral letter to the people of the Diocese of Marquette, Bishop John expounded on this challenge and gave us a road map of sorts to help us along the journey. He says, “To evangelize means helping people encounter Jesus by sharing the Gospel message so that they make a personal decision to follow Jesus in faith.” The focus of the pastoral plan is for us to allow the Holy Spirit to form each and every one of us into a Spirit‐ filled evangelizer, like our first bishop, the Venerable Frederic Baraga. Spirit‐filled evangelizers are Christians who are transformed by the love of the Holy Spirit and follow the Spirit’s lead to share Jesus with others.
Summer 2019 presented some new opportunities for the Totus Tuus missionaries to share Jesus with others. The VSP program introduced in-home visits in “very small parish” communities, to reach more people and effectively use the time and talents of the missionaries, who commit to a summer of service. In the Ewen/Bruce Crossing area, the Holy Spirit threw a curve ball that created a time gap in the program. Fr. Ben called on his friend, Bonnie Howard, for help. Bonnie, the mother of several Totus Tuus missionaries and a trusted neighbor to many people in the area, rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She called on her neighbors who she thought could use a helping hand, and offered up the services of eight missionaries. The offer, as you might imagine, was readily accepted. The missionaries worked hard and the locals were grateful for the help.
As Fr. Ben relayed the story to me afterwards, I imagined it to be like the national Fall “Make a Difference Day” on Catholic steroids. Students car-pooling to the homes of senior citizens to rake leaves, grateful, smiling white-haired ladies serving up homemade cookies and lemonade, and tidy neighborhoods all in a row. To make it Catholic, maybe there would be the addition of an “Amen!” and the home would be blessed with holy water. Really? Was this a good use of Legacy of Faith grant funds, or could it be good intent gone astray that needed to be directed back into the classroom? I felt the call to make a road trip, visit some of these places, talk to the locals and see for myself. I am, after all, accountable to my donors and want to make sure we are giving them what we promised – quality faith formation programs.
I don’t often make site visits to the programs we fund. That requires time that gets sucked up by the myriad of other job responsibilities I have. Alas, that is yet another story to be told at a later time, that of a diocesan development director who served under three bishops, raised the money and dished it all back out again, whose heart, like the Grinch’s, grew three sizes that day!
Anyway, I invested the time and made the visits. With my husband as my driver and my confidant, because I can’t put in the kind of hours I do at my job without him by my side. And, a 10-hour relatively quiet road trip across the U.P. can be the perfect medicine at the end of a long, hard week.
I met Fr. Ben’s friend Bonnie in Ewen and she took me around to meet some amazing people. I sat at their kitchen tables and heard their stories first-hand. Some of the stories and sights made me cry a little, and I’m not an outwardly emotional person. But inwardly, it has to be a bit emotional for me, or it doesn’t seem real. If I cry (not in front of other people, mind you), then I know it’s real.
I saw their yards where the Totus Tuus missionaries pulled weeds, raked and moved stuff from one place to another. I would say “I saw their lovely yards,” but that would be a lie. Some of the yards needed far more attention than 8 missionaries could do in two short weeks.
Now, I’m convinced. The Totus Tuus program is evangelization at its very core, that place where the human spirit meets the Holy Spirit head on. That encounter with none other than Jesus Christ himself, embodied in the hands and feet of missionaries, and present in the stories of those being served.
The stories. How they touched me. I know they will stick and become part of who I am, just like the 38-Special song, reminding me to “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.”
I meet 93-year old Gladys, who has lived in the same house on 100 acres for 72 years, the same house that her husband built for their family. The cozy kitchen we sit in still holds the original Nepa Stove made in Bruce Crossing, resting on what seems to be sacred space, holding a life-time of memories. Gladys has outlived her husband and both of her children. She briefly recounts the stories of each of their deaths, how her husband’s cancer would not let up, how one son “had a fight with a bear, and lost,” and how her other son succumbed to a mysterious, unnamed “something from the woods.” These are the people that Gladys loved and will continue to hold onto and not let go of. “It’s too sad to put away his stuff,” she says, followed by “Would you like a Hershey’s Kiss? They’re good for you!” She takes me on a tour of her front yard and points out with great satisfaction the areas where weeds have been pulled. It looks weathered and bit lonely, I think. I use my iPhone to click a picture of her and Bonnie, then move on to the next house.
I meet Ruth, a retired school teacher who lives alone in a neat and tidy home and is dressed just the same. The way she talks about the missionaries and the work they did for her reminds me of my high school English teacher. “Those students were very industrious, no goofing around. They were well mannered, weeded the whole front yard around the shrubs. I give them an A+ on their report card!” Ruth praises Bonnie in a similar manner for all of the organizing that she did to schedule the service projects and watch over the missionaries. “You can’t pay volunteers enough to do something like this, Bonnie was very thorough.” Ruth says that one of the missionaries had been to Honduras to do mission work. She says, “Ewen is much closer, and there’s plenty to do right here at home.” Ruth is hoping for a return of the Totus Tuus program to her neighborhood next summer.
Finally, I meet Rainy, whose home needed the most attention of all that I visited that day. A driveway lined with cars, overgrown grass, and a too-loud television that drowned out our knocks at the front door. We make our way to the back of the house where our knock was heard. When the door opened my nostrils were assaulted with the odor of Sunday breakfast not quite finished and something else, that I soon labeled as sickness. Rainy, I learned, is a full-time caregiver. Her husband has a balance and coordination disorder. “Every day is different,” she says, “He sleeps about 80% of the day.” When he got sick, they moved from Trout Creek “closer to town” where she could better care for him. She fears that soon they will need to move again, possibly to Green Bay, for the medical assistance he needs. It is Rainy who teaches me that it’s not the yard that needs attention. “It was nice to have somebody do the yard, but it was more about having kids around that was an extra bonus. That was really nice.” She beams as she says this. She tells me that there are a lot of older people around here who don’t have anybody, and I believe this in a way I’ve never believed it before. My heart breaks a little for those people.
Does it matter that I haven’t mentioned that none of these sweet ladies are Catholic? I think not. They are each a child of God, needing to give and to receive love, for as long as God sees fit to keep them among the living, sharing the gift of themselves. The raw and simple truth of this statement conjures up another song that sticks with me. This one, a sacred hymn. The words are revealed to me only when the familiar tune forms in my head. It speaks to one of the things I love most about being Catholic. “We are many parts. We are all one body. And the gifts we have, we were given to share. May the spirit of love make us one indeed.”
FROM THE MISSIONARIES
There are more stories that I learned on my quest to be accountable to my donors. These stories are from some of the Totus Tuus missionaries. The stories, like the missionaries themselves, are full of hope and will likely season with the passage of time, as they are remembered and retold and relived.
Daniel, a recent graduate of Michigan Tech with a double engineering degree, admits that being a Totus Tuus missionary really brought him out of his comfort zone. He was uncertain how he would handle teaching kids of all ages and dreaded the silly songs and skits. But he gave it his best and now acknowledges God for providing him with the help he needed to get through it. By the end of the summer, he loved singing the hippo song, which he says is one of the more ridiculous songs in his repertoire. “It was beautiful to see and be able to build up the childlike faith Jesus mentions in the Gospel,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words all that God did for me…strengthened my faith through the faith of the kids, and showed me how strong the church is in supporting me and others who are willing to serve on the front lines.”
Clare, wise beyond her years, says that she cannot teach people about God. Only the Holy Spirit can teach through her. She is thankful that the Holy Spirit was able to use her for other people’s good. “He didn’t stop there,
though. I was given many gifts myself including knowledge, understanding, communal prayer, and authentic friendships,” she said.
Cora, who I hosted as a Totus Tuus missionary last summer, began her ministry with the intention of making it fun and informative, so that the students would have an experience with Jesus later when they were old enough to understand. She thought the kids wouldn’t focus enough to be receptive. “Reality just blew me away,” she reflects. “I challenged a group one day to listen to God when they prayed before Mass. They fired a challenge back, ‘Have you ever heard God?’ Yes! And when the class prayed that day, I could see from their posture and how intentional each movement was that each of them wanted to hear God, too.” The students taught Cora that Jesus is ready to encounter every heart. “It was a privilege to serve them.”
It is clear that the people involved in the Totus Tuus program, from Fr. Ben to the missionaries to the program participants, and beyond, are benefitting from the experience of this dynamic, life-giving, Catholic program. More people are living their faith in concrete, substantive ways, modeling a very privileged, yet challenging, Catholic way of life. I don’t know how we cannot continue this program, especially with people like Ruth who are asking for the missionaries to return again next summer!
Along with these touching Totus Tuus stories, there is something else that weighs heavy within me at this time. The vision statement for my office is to be an effective diocesan ministry that calls every Catholic to be a faithful steward. I get to work with people every day who love their Catholic faith and seek guidance and support in stewarding their beloved Church. They take seriously their responsibility to care for and hand on the Catholic faith to the next generation. Christian stewardship is a way of life that is both privileged and challenging. However, at this moment in time, it seems to be a lot more challenge and a lot less privilege for many people.
I am saddened by some of the notes that I receive, difficult conversations I have with people I know to be of deep faith, and the visible withdraw of people from the pews – actions that I believe express the lacerating impact of the current Catholic culture. People generally, and understandably, are mad at Church leaders. At times like this, everyone who works for the Church seems to be tarred with the same brush of mistrust and wickedness. I have grown thick skin over the years that shields me taking personally people’s anger and hurt. But it is quite another challenge for me to not hurt for them. When people tell me that they have taken the Church out their will, or refuse to give the U.P. Catholic Services Appeal, or are mad at our Bishop for a difficult decision he made, my heart breaks a little. I hold on to them loosely and give them space, but I don’t let go of them because I am them. I want to tell them to be like the Totus Tuus missionary, Daniel, and know that the church is strong in supporting those who are willing to serve on the front lines.
Bishop John has given each of his staff members a copy of Bishop Robert Barron’s recent book, “Letter to a Suffering Church.” In the book, Bishop Barron reflects in his usual wise and eloquent way, on why we should stay Catholic with so much scandal. He urges his brothers and sisters in the Church to stay and fight. Bishop John coaches his staff to remember that we are Catholic not because of other people, but because of Jesus Christ. God alone is the truth and the way.
Fr. Ben ended his recent email to Totus Tuus missionaries with, “Come Holy Spirit…God you aren’t done with any of us yet!” I am making way for whatever God shows me is next. I trust that it will be something triumphant, and that it will probably trigger another song or story in my head!